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How to See Birds in Costa Rica

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

GETTING THERE: Many airlines, including US Airways, American, Delta, Spirit, Taca and Continental, offer connecting service from the Washington area to San Jose, Costa Rica. Round-trip fares typically start at about $330, including taxes.

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GETTING AROUND: It is possible, albeit difficult, to do the bird route without joining a tour. A four-wheel-drive car is essential; a week-long Toyota RAV4 rental through Thrifty, for example, will run about $320. A private guide with extensive knowledge of the bird route will make the trip far more enjoyable but will cost upward of $200 a day. For a list of professional guides or a map of the route ($12.95, including shipping), go to http://www.costaricanbirdroute.com.

TOURS: A group tour is the easiest way to go. For serious birders, the Costa Rican Bird Route Challenge, Feb. 21-27, is the route's official opening event. Teams of bird-watchers will vie to observe the most species of birds. Cost is $1,100 per person double, which covers six nights' lodging, all meals, two guides per team and internal transportation; airfare is not included. Each team is also required to raise $500 in donations.

Raquel Gómez, Costa Rican coordinator for the bird route, can also arrange more-generalized tours. Our trip, for example, cost $1,145 per person double plus about $250 tips and included lodging, meals, whitewater rafting, ground transportation, guides and a $200 donation to Rainforest Biodiversity Group.

Info: 608-698-3448, http://www.costaricanbirdroute.com.

WHERE TO STAY: Doing it on your own? Hotel Bougainvillea (866-880-5441, http://www.hb.co.cr) in Santo Domingo de Heredia, about a half-hour drive from San Jose, is a lovely place to start and finish: Rates are about $103 a night plus 16 percent tax. El Gavilan Lodge (http://www.gavilanlodge.com), about 90 minutes from San Jose, has numerous hiking trails leading to the Sarapiqui River; cost per night is $59 per person including meals. Selva Verde Lodge & Rainforest Reserve (800-451-7111, http://www.selvaverde.com), a 500-acre resort in Chilamate, can arrange activities from birding to rafting: Price is $95 per couple per night, including breakfast. Albergue el Socorro (http://www.albergueelsocorro.com) is a delightful, out-of-the-way, family-owned ranch near the village of San Miguel; rates start at $50 per person per day including all meals. Four other sites on the bird route also offer lodging.

WHEN TO GO: The dry season is December-April, although it can rain at any time. During rainy season, it's not uncommon to have dry mornings, followed by rain in the afternoon and overnight.

WHAT TO BRING: Good rain gear, sturdy hiking shoes, lightweight long-sleeve shirts and long pants to protect from bug bites, a floppy hat, a backpack that allows easy access to your water bottle, sunscreen, bug repellent and "The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide" by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean are essentials. For currency, I exchanged only a small amount into colones: U.S. dollars are accepted just about everywhere.

-- C.S.


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